The Emerging Sustainable Development Goals. Panel discussion at ZEF

September 23, 2014.  


On the occasion of ZEF's annual Board meeting, around 150 particpants gathered at ZEF on September 18, 2014, to listen to the input of an experts' panel and subsequently discuss the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The panel focused on the environmental dimensions of the emerging SDGs and their linkages to the overarching goals of ending extreme poverty and hunger, as well as on the role of research for effective implementation of the SDGs.



The following speakers were on the panel: 

  • Jr.-Prof. Jan Börner, ZEF, and Steering Committee member of Germany’s Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN)
  • Prof. Bina Agarwal, University of Manchester and University of Delhi, India (ZEF Board member)
  • Prof. Lisa Sennerby Forsse, Rector of the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Uppsala, Sweden (ZEF Board member)

The discussion was moderated by ZEF-director Joachim von Braun.
Summary of key note:

Jr.-Prof. Jan Börner gave a key note on the SDGs, focussing on two themes under discussion among members of Germany’s Sustainable Development Solutions Network:

Reducing inequality within and between countries (Goal 10 of the 17 proposed SDGs):"Conversation efficiency" does not always produce fair outcomes – and, although perceptions of fairness play an important role in policy debates, quantitative research often struggles to factor fairness and equity dimensions into policy advice. Börner refers to Brazil to illustrate his point: The lion's share of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon does not occur in indigenous territories, but on private and often illegally claimed land that is predominantly in the hands of large-scale commercial enterprises. Many indigenous groups in Brazil oppose international forest carbon offsetting, because compensations for avoided deforestation would thus primarily go to large-scale landholders. This opposition reflects historically grown resentments that have only recently been addressed by land reform and improvements in law enforcement. Only policy proposals that carefully balance conservation-efficiency with these less quantifiable dimensions are likely to gain majority support.  

Second, Börner focused on the idea of "good life" (indirectly linked to all proposed 17 SDG goals). To achieve "good life for all” through sustainable development, we need to not only find ways to enable minimum standards of living in the poor parts of the world. Another challenge is to avoid excessive standards of living in the wealthy parts of the world. Although many European states have reduced the excessive use of their domestic natural resource base, their ecological footprint in developing and tropical countries is among the highest in the world: Europe imports bio-based products from over 230 million hectares of agricultural and forest land in South America, South East Asia, and Africa – often these products are sourced in ecologically sensitive natural landscapes. Proactive measures to change social norms that result in unsustainable consumption patterns are probably a necessary step towards a fair global partnership for sustainable development.

Börner concluded by re-emphasizing that scientific knowledge and insights are obviously necessary but not sufficient conditions to address inequality and achieve good life. In order to make science more policy-relevant, it needs to closely follow political debates, understand stakeholder interests, and regularly update information and knowledge respectively. Thus, policy-makers can better assess the positive and negative implications of their decisions.

Watch the whole panel discussion here.


Jan Börner

Prof. Dr. Jan Börner